If you have never worked in schools, you may not know about the restorative necessity of the holiday break. Teachers pour all of their all into kids, getting relationships and learning in place and growing. And it’s work. And then there’s ‘these days’.
They’ve not only, as usual, earned this time to rest, connect with family and loved ones, but this time is important so they can continue, with renewed energy and focus, when the new year begins.
Been having lots and lots of conversations about kids and schools lately. Turns out that kids being away from in-person school for 18 months has repercussions. Behaviors that schools haven’t seen before….they’re seeing. Not most kids, not the majority of kids, but enough to make school a different place.
So what to do? Here’s one thing. Gather up a group of kids and talk with them. Make clear expectations. Remind them that they are loved. And that they are loved enough to be held to reasonable expectations.
This picture is of two of our building leaders having that conversation with kids. A principal and a teacher. Mark Robinson and Andy Michel. I happened to be in the building at the time, and sat in the back and listened. The message was delivered and heard. You could have heard a pin drop. When gifted educators talk with passion, share compassion, and show their hearts, kids listen.
I checked in with the teacher a couple days after the meeting. Notice any improvement? His direct answer, “Attitudes improved overall. Students spent an entire period brainstorming solutions in small groups.”
Step by step, we’ll rebuild school culture and climate. Conversation by conversation. Kid by kid.
One of my favorite things about learning via Twitter is the seemingly simple ideas that show up every day. The quote above illustrates a beauty. As we continue to work with kids coming through the pandemic, the ideas that help kids are the ones into which we lean. This idea can be implemented today, yesterday, tomorrow, or next week.
And it can be implemented with grown ups too. Imagine asking teachers to write down the words they need to hear on tough days, collecting them, then returning them as needed. Bam!
Coming back to school this fall, we all had smiles under our masks. Big hopes for ‘normal’. Even though our guts told us it would be the ‘next normal’. Not entirely the same, but probably close. Right?
Nope. Turns out having kids and teachers apart for over a year created a lot of muck. And it’s muck through which we are still wading. Probably will be longer than we thought. One of our principals now refers to this time as the ‘Letdown of the Fall.’
Step one for us. Rebuild Teacher Agency. From Leading the Rebound, by Fisher/Frey/Smith/Hattie, the ‘reality’ is that ‘many (perhaps most) teachers no longer see the relationship between their efforts and the impact they have.’ The recommendation is ‘to make the link between effort and outcome explicit to rebuild teacher agency.’ So we’re working on that.
Holy cow. Ponder that elegant and seemingly simple idea. Ponder all the slick ways it can address ‘no longer seeing the relationship between their efforts and the impact they have.’ Parents and kids LOVE to hear good news from teachers about kids. Teachers will and are hearing back from parents and kids about the impact of positive and specific messages.
We’re rebuilding a lot of things. This idea is one heck of a tool. Thank you Emma!
I remember around year 4 or 5 as a principal. I really thought I had made a huge mistake leaving the classroom. It seemed like every ounce of negative energy on the planet was colliding in my office. I distinctly remember saying to two of my best friends in the business, “Man. This is brutal. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
And then a mentor reminded me that these days would pass. Probably not fast enough, but they would. Breathe in. Breathe out. Lean on others. And the days passed and I found joy in being a principal again.
Hey principals. You are doing amazing work. Hang in there. Breathe in. Breathe out. Lean on others. You are making kids’ lives better.
A comment from a principal is still banging around in my head. The Letdown of the Fall. Expectation vs. Reality.
So we go to work. Taking care of ourselves and each other as adults. Learning about Teacher Agency. Recommitting to Collective Teacher Efficacy. Investing in student and teacher support.
And being the adults to which kids are drawn. Even with masks. I know it’s not that simple, but I see it at all of our schools, everyday. Kids and teachers doing kids and teacher stuff. And usually you don’t have to see a smile to know there’s a smile under a mask. You can see it in the eyes. You can hear laughter. You can observe teachers in the halls, laughing with each other, greeting kids with the special, insider fun comments that all teachers and kids know from something funny that happened in class.
We control what we can control. And we can control how we we treat each other, which in turn impacts how our students are doing.
Last week, we met with the principals and assistant principals as part of ongoing professional learning conversations. It has easily been over a year since we’ve been able to have such in-person and focused conversations, that didn’t involve COVID details. This was pure teaching, learning, leading, sharing, growing, and so forth.
This particular conversation centered on Leading the Rebound by Fisher, Frey, Smith, and Hattie. A monster resource for leaders. We leaned into and discussed ‘Teacher Agency’. The belief that what they do matters.
Great book, highly recommended!
We’ve had ongoing professional learning conversations with principals for years. The general expectation was that the principal would carry the conversations back to the building and share with her/his assistant principal(s).
This year, for a variety of good reasons, we decided to add mirror PL sessions for assistant principals. Mirror in the sense that the morning meeting with principals would be exactly replicated in the afternoon session with assistant principals. The conversations in both gatherings were healthy, honest, and engaging. The two meetings had, in my opinion, a different feel. That’s a topic for a later blogpost.
The principals were ‘strongly encouraged’ to gather with their assistant principal(s) at some point in the following week or two to share learnings, ideas, etc. In fact, one of the final items at each PL session was the task of writing down one action item to be used back in the building, with the idea being that the principal and assistant principal(s) would share with each other and use the sharing as the source of a professional conversation about how to better and better support teachers.
And then this happened.
I was with Mark Robinson, the principal at our junior high. We were discussing all of the above. He and his assistant principal, Chris Lezcano, had already talked through the learning sessions. That they had already done this did not surprise me. I know for a fact that the importance of collaborative professional learning conversations between building leaders in the same building is a top priority for them. They are the only admins in that building. Being on the same page is important. Anyway, Mark pointed to a section of his whiteboard where he and Chris had been thinking about things that had affected ‘teacher agency’ at the junior high. And one of the things they had written down blew my mind.
The Letdown of the Fall.
Wait. What? The Letdown of the Fall? The full return of kids to school, back to ‘normal’? A Letdown? What the heck?
I think by nature, successful educators tend to be positive outlook people. The idea of getting kids back in school was so exciting. Teachers being able to engage with kids directly, rather than through a screen, or in some cases, a blank screen, was a wonderful prospect. Sports, assemblies, spirit weeks. Sure there are masks requirements, distancing, testing, isolation rooms, sub challenges…..and….so….on.
Turns out that those things still have weight. Of course they do. We have returned. We haven’t returned to ‘normal’. We use the phrase ‘next normal’. Not ‘new normal’. ‘Next’. And next still has challenges. Daily, hourly, ongoing. Challenges.
So these two leaders found, discussed, and surfaced a challenge to teacher agency we had not discussed, but certainly requires discussion. The steps in the Teacher Agency section of the book are still perfect and make sense in rebuilding or reaffirming Teacher Agency. They will allow leaders to address Teacher Agency, including the Letdown of the Fall.
The most important part of all of this? That two busy building administrators made the time to talk, share, support, and grow together. Of course there’s not enough time to do anything most of the time. But if we don’t make the time to have these conversations, we are literally saying, “Everything else is more important than talking with my direct colleague building leader about how we can better and better support teachers.” And that just ain’t true.
The Letdown of the Fall will turn into the Rise of the Spring, after the Work of the Winter.
If you have been teaching or principaling for a decent amount of time, say at least 7 years, when you reflect on your first year or two, do you cringe a little? Is it fair to say that if you don’t cringe a little, you may not have grown and learned very much? If, in year 7, you are in lockstep with your practices, skills, and thinking from year 1, that’s a problem. Somebody really pushy might say that if you are in lockstep with your practices, skills, and thinking from last year, that might be a problem.
I cringe. In both contexts, especially the teacher context. Middle school teacher for 16 years, principal for 12. Lots of stuff I would want to tell that young, barely 22 year old teacher, in his spiffy Miami Vice yellow jeans and flipped up collar. That kid probably wouldn’t have listened, he was so cocky.
Here’s the excuse.
I taught and principaled by gut and instinct. More so as a teacher. Pretty much zip followed me out of my college time into the classroom. And the professional preparation for this young teacher, at the time, was, “Here’s your classroom, your key, and plan book, see you in June.” So with that solid professional preparation in place, I strolled into a classroom of 14 year olds, and was off and flailing. I got better as time went along, but not even close to my potential.
Here’s the excuse.
I didn’t read, nor have offered or shared with me, one darn thing. I don’t think once in the 16 years. How about that?
Are we doing better now? I sure think so.
Here’s are recent examples.
Last week, we had a professional learning day, with two sessions hosted by central office leadership. First, was a session led by Denise Daniels, our new Executive Director of Equity and Inclusion. Her session was called, ‘Creating Your Culture’. We held the learning via Zoom, which one might assume would be problematic. It was not. It was helpful. It was like everybody in one big room, with multiple ways to share. Either by flat talking, or by adding to the chat. People were present, engaged, and vulnerable. It was an amazing session, led by a gifted, passionate, and experienced leader.
During the session, one of our middle school teachers, John Garrett, shared the impact the book Not Light, But Fire by Matthew R. Kay had on him as a teacher and learner. So….I bought it and am on chapter two. Chapter one hooked me big time. Lots a great conversation about establishing a culture in a classroom for conversation. Not assuming that one’s classroom is a ‘safe space’ because one has simply announced that it is a ‘safe space’. There’s ongoing work that must happen to make it a potential ‘safe space’.
Among the cool things in the above example is the fact that Mr. Garrett, as a teacher, is offering up a resource to his colleagues. That simple and generous act is already miles ahead of what I experienced as a new teacher.
Our second session of learning, for our K-5 teachers, was hosted by Dr. Lindsay Lombardo, our new Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Lombardo led us through work called, “K-5: Addressing Unfinished Learning in Reading: An Overview.” It is safe to say that this learning landed huge. And there’s evidence to that effect. Teachers had the opportunity to share feed back, and close to 80 of them have already done so. Not just positive feedback but earnest requests for more learning.
It’s a goal of our TLI department, that in 7 years, or next year, or next week, or today, our educators will look at learning during this time and recognize professional growth.
This week, our TLI department started a conversation around the recently updated guidance from the Washington Office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) around Student Growth Goals.
About ten years ago, our state commenced a new evaluation model for educators, with an emphasis on professional growth, based on an instructional framework. Our district selected the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership’s 5D model. One of the requirements of the evaluation model was to include student growth as a component.
OPSI, working with educators, has updated the guidance around Student Growth Goals.
They explain, “It has been ten years since Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Program (TPEP) began with a small cadre of pilot districts from around the state. The last decade has provided opportunities to hone evaluation practices to better support educator growth. It has also allowed for drift from the original intent of growing teaching practice; regarding Student Growth Goals this has led, in some schools and districts, to a singular focus on assessment scores. When this process becomes perfunctory, we lose a critical tool for more deeply understanding our students, their learning, and how we must respond as educators.“
Any writing that includes the word ‘perfunctory’ grabs my full attention. Adjective: (of an action or gesture) carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection.
Ouch. And even ouchier? It’s true. And good on OSPI for calling it out.
The new guidance leans into identifying critical standards in learning, opportunities for students to draw from their own academic and personal experiences to make learning meaning, student voice and engagement, student and family feedback.
All of this feels familiar, hopeful, and powerful for kids and educators. And districts have a whole year to learn about Student Growth Goals. Some schools or teachers may pilot the Student Growth Goal process.
Some may think that these changes are small steps. Small steps can add up.
My multitalented colleague, Elaine Smith, recently captured our first TLI (Teaching-Learning-Innovation) department meeting in her excellent blogpost. She described the two questions each member of the department might ask her/himself at the end of a day. A very cool idea we stole from Jason Kennedy. I personally love the idea for a number of reasons. It’s good to reflect at the end of the day. It’s good to have challenging questions to prompt reflection. Good questions and honest answers can create accountability. Personal and professional accountability.
My two end of the day questions are, “What did I do today to encourage/inspire educator learning?” and “What did I do today to support students?” I stick by, and do actually think about, those questions at the end of the day.
Our team did themselves proud with the far reaching and challenging questions each put forward.
And then there’s one of Elaine’s questions.
“Did the time spent today match my why?”
Huh. How about them apples? Lots and lots of educators spend a lot of quality time thinking about why they do what they do. Their why. This is a great thing to do. I’ve seen really poignant and meaningful answers to the question, “What is your why?” Good stuff.
Elaine jacks that idea up 9 notches. We get busy. We do a lot of things every day. Everybody does. But what a challenging, honest, and abrupt question to ponder at the end of a busy day. Did any or some or none of all you just did today match up with your purported ‘why’? Whoa.
If the answer is no and if the answer is no a lot, is your why real? Do you need to adjust your why? Or do you really need to take a hard look at your time spent each day. Those are good questions too.
So as I often do, I want to thank Elaine for challenging me. Again. And you’re welcome for allowing me to challenge you.